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Launch of First National Courtesy Campaign 1st Jun 1979

The first national courtesy campaign was launched by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 1 June 1979, with the objective of turning Singapore into a pleasant country where the people are kind, considerate and thoughtful towards each other.[1] The campaign had its origins in an earlier courtesy campaign initiated by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now Singapore Tourism Board) in April 1978 to encourage Singaporeans to be more polite and friendlier towards tourists.[2] Of the view that attributes such as kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness should be inculcated in everyone, Lee expanded the campaign into a nationwide public awareness programme headed by the then Ministry of Culture (now Ministry of Communications and Information).[3]

The courtesy campaign started off as a month-long campaign held annually in July before turning into a year-long blitz in 1985.[4] In conjunction with the courtesy campaign each year, activities and programmes were organised to reinforce the courtesy message. These include distribution of pamphlets and souvenirs, airing of commercials and catchy jingles, as well as the organisation of contests and competitions.[5] Different themes and catchy slogans were also used each year to encourage different groups of Singaporeans such as youths, mobile-phone users, travellers, wedding guests and neighbours to be courteous and considerate to others in various social situations.[6]

The slogan for the first courtesy campaign, held in 1979, was “Make Courtesy Our Way of Life”, accompanied by a round smiling head logo.[7] In 1982, a mascot named Singa (Malay for “lion”) was introduced to replace the smiling head logo, which organisers felt was conveying the message that the campaign was only about smiling.[8] Designed by the Ministry of Culture’s art team comprising Joseph Teo Teck Seng, Ahmad Assan and Eileen Wat, Singa is depicted as a smiling golden-maned lion with  outstretched welcoming arms and wearing a red T-shirt with the smiling head logo. It is accompanied by the slogan, “It is so nice to be courteous”.[9] Since its unveiling, Singa has been featured in the publicity materials of many courtesy campaigns.[10]

In 1993, the Singapore Courtesy Council was set up to advise the government on the organisation and coordination of the annual national courtesy campaign.[11] Under the council, the reach of the campaign was enlarged through various means. This include the release of a comic book titled It’s the Hosomes! in 1994, and the launch of a courtesy-themed website in 1998.[12] On 1 March 2001, the courtesy campaign was subsumed under the Singapore Kindness Movement, which was launched in 1996 after the Singapore Courtesy Council was dissolved.[13]

1. National Courtesy Campaign. (1979, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The Straits Times, 2 Jun 1979, p. 1; Courtesy goes a long way to boost tourism. (1978, March 28). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The Straits Times, 2 Jun 1979, p. 1; Nirmala, M. (1999). Courtesy – more than a smile (p. 11). Singapore: The Singapore Courtesy Council. Call no.: RSING 395.095957 NIR-[CUS].
4. Lee, V. (1985, June 29). New-style courtesy campaign will last a whole yearThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nirmala, 1999, p. 14.
5. Nirmala, 1999, pp. 12–13.
6. Nirmala, 1999, pp. 12–15.
7. Annual courtesy drive planned. (1979, May 10). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nirmala, 1999, p. 90.
8. Lee, P. (1982, May 15). Mascot for campaignThe Straits Times, p. 1; Courtesy – Singa style. (1982, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Gamboa, E. (1982, May 18). How Eileen wiped the snarl off SingaThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Straits Times, 15 May 1982, p. 1.
10. Nirmala, 1999, p. 26.
11. Courtesy council to advise govt on annual campaign. (1993, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 23; Courtesy council formed with members from various occupations. (1993, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Nirmala, 1999, pp. 15–16; Foo, J. (1994, December 13). Comic book shows up discourteous traits of wholesome families hereThe Straits Times, p. 5; Website launched with tips on etiquette. (1998, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Soon, courtesy will be part of kindness. (2001, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nirmala, 1999, pp. 16, 114–115.


The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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